Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 7:56:26 AM

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Former B-Met Home Run King giving back to Southern Tier

(Source: Jeremy Donovan)

Binghamton Mets fans remember the summer of 1997 for one thing, Matt Raleigh home runs. 

"You knew every time he was at the plate, there was a good chance it was going to be a home run," said Roger Neel, WNBF; B-Mets PA Announcer.

"When the Yankees had Hideki Irabu coming through, who was untouchable at the time, Matt hit one off him that I don't think has landed yet," said Jim Weed, B-Mets General Manager.

He hit 37 homers that season which remains the B-Mets single season record.  But for Raleigh, he called it a good and bad season.

"If you look at it, I hit a tremendous amount of home runs in a short period of time, but I think I had more home runs than I had base hits, I had a lot of strikeouts and my average was low," Raleigh said.

His average, just .196.  Including his 37 home runs, he registered just 78 base hits and 74 RBI.  But, for another non-baseball reason, the 1997 season was a memorable one.  In November, after the season was over, his oldest daughter Alexis was born.

Raleigh would play 47 games with the 1998 B-Mets before a call up to Triple-A Norfolk.  By the end of the 2001 season, his playing career was over due to injuries.

But Raleigh didn't leave the game.  He coached professionally until 2008.  That year he managed the Double-A Carolina Mudcats of the Southern League.  With Raleigh as hitting coach in 2003, the Mudcats won the Southern League Championship earning him a championship ring.  But that wasn't the biggest piece of jewelry he earned that year.  The Mudcats at the time were the Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins.  The Marlins beat the Yankees in the World Series that year, earning Raleigh a World Series Ring. That ring was the biggest ever made and Raleigh's needed to be custom ordered to fit his size 17 finger.  So, it's a fair assumption that he owns the world's biggest World Series ring.

But, despite being on the fast track to the big leagues as a coach, the price of his career was just too high.

"That's a lot on my wife and my kids, being away 8-9 months at a time, that's painful as a dad," he said.

So, after close to two decades in the professional game Raleigh returned to his wife Michelle and his family, in the Southern Tier where she grew up.  He continued his work at the Raleigh Baseball Institute, which he began in the winter of 1996 before beginning play with the B-Mets, teaching lessons and coaching baseball and softball players every day in the offseason and is now also the head coach of the Maine-Endwell varsity softball team.

"Not many people get the opportunity that we get to know everything that he is teaching us," said Natalie Longo, M-E senior second basemen.

"He just knows everything about the game, and we just trust that," said Natalie Knight, M-E senior catcher/first base.

Playing softball for a coach that's spent his entire life around baseball at times can be a little interesting for the Spartans.

"There's never a dull moment, we're always doing something creative and innovative, and we're always doing something different," said Taylor Chidester, M-E senior shortstop.

While Raleigh is perfectly content coaching at the high school level and instructing at RBI, he hasn't ruled out a return to the professional game after his kids are grown.  While his next milestone may be a plaque in the Binghamton Baseball Shrine at NYSEG Stadium, he says he never played for the accolades and the honors, just the love of the game.

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